To be fair, one must approach judgement of a legendary and veteran band such as Sodom, with care, so that their present actions are seen in light of the road they have tread. In this spirit, it is appropriate that we go over the band’s career, taking a brief look at each step of their evolution so as to get a picture of how the band came to be as we see it and hear them today on Decision Day. If we are to start from the very beginning, we have to look back to their very first demo released in 1984, Victims of Death, which stands in an area between Metallica – Kill ‘Em All and Bathory’s self-titled debut album. Sodom’s first step is closer to contemporary hardcore punk than speed metal, which affords them a certain street credibility.
Having discovered Põhjast recently, the DeathMetal.org team was psyched at this chance to interview Eric Syre (vocals) and Gates (guitar) of this energetic new band.
Combining the atmosphere of black metal with the speed and riffing of old school doom metal, Põhjast revive the classic metal vibe as hybridized with the adventurous and somewhat darker spirit of the northern styles. The result is both satisfying to anyone who enjoys Angel Witch or Candlemass, but might also appeal to those who keep old Darkthrone and Immortal on hand for daily listening.
The result is a band that avoids the retro backward-looking sensation of many recent releases, but also bypasses the intellectual forgery that is the assumption that making Sonic Youth ripoff albums with black metal logos is somehow a motion “forward.” You’ll be hearing more of them and their energetic vocalist Eric Syre, who channels three decades of metal talent into a single voice…
When did you discover you had a talent for classic metal vocals? How did you form the understanding of melody and sonic topography that guides these vocals? Who were your influences? Why haven’t we heard this voice before?
I have always been into clean signing and started as a singer in a rock band back in the early 90s. I also did some choir work for different projects in the past. When the time came for me to start my own bands I just ventured into heavier music and adapted my vocals to it. I have very little musical training so I work a lot with instinct and feeling, improvising vocal lines first and then reworking them with a keyboard or an acoustic guitar to make them musically “right.” I try to stay away from copying the riffs I sing over and come up with a melody standing on its own. It complements the music a lot better and expands the palette of feelings the whole song has to offer.
As far as influences, I always liked singers who had some grain to their voices, not the perfect-sounding ones. I have a baritone/bass range and I guess that naturally I prefer singers close that range. I have always been into Bathory and Candlemass so I guess you can find traces of both Quorthon and Messiah in my vocals. Bruce Dickinson remains the ultimate clean vocalist in the metal genre, for me. Dio and Gillan are also vocalists I have high esteem for. I also like the octavists singers. They are out of my range but I admire the power and resonance of their voices.
Tell me about how Põhjast came to be. I am told that the band is scattered across the globe, and you collaborate remotely. How do you do this?
We are scattered here and there, both in Europe and America. I am located in Quebec, Canada. With the technology which revolutionized the recording process in the last decade, it became a lot easier to have such a band. They record the music in Estonia and I do my parts here. We exchange emails and samples and, like in any normal band, we come to a conclusion where everything pleases us enough to release the music. It just requires a bit more time and technicalities. I sometimes miss the whole “rehearsal room feeling” but so far it’s the only way to make it work.
What style of music would you describe Matused as being, and how does it differ from previous Põhjast work? Can you tell us what “Matused” and “Põhjast” mean in Estonian? Does the band have any influences, and do they show on this album?
This new album is a good follow-up to the previous one Thou strong, Stern Death, released in 2012. It has some doomier elements, a little more classic Heavy Metal to it and the references to Bathory are present more than ever. To me it sounds like Scandinavian/Baltic Metal should sound; It’s heavy, cold and pounding. If I am not mistaken, “Matused” means “funerals.” It obviously refers to the lyrics of all songs. “Põhjast” means “north,” or at least that’s the understanding I have of the word. I speak French so you can understand my limits with Estonian.
Maybe Gates (guitars) can elaborate a bit more:
Exactly, Eric is right: “Matused” means funerals in Estonian and the name of the album is connetected with the album lyrics. The name of the project — Põhjast — means both the direction of North and the base or foundation of something — a revival, the end of something old and the birth of something new. Therefore the name has a much deeper meaning, at least for me, than just a mere name of a band.
Definitely the project has its own influencers. I personally have been greatly influenced by such persons as Quorthon and Abbath. Both have paved the way to extraordinary music styles. May these be black metal or viking metal, there’s no difference – everyone who have heard their creation can admit that the music is special and that they have not heard anything like this before.
I am not inspired only by their music. I find their healthy sense of humor and attitude towards life inspiring as well. I have always enjoyed the interviews of Abbath — his interviews from 1991 in Septicore and in 2007 in Inferno are both equally pure gold to me.
However, if I should still generalize, then the music of Põhjast can be categorized under Scandinavian Metal — one can certainly detect similarities to Oz, Bathory, Immortal, Morgana Lefay and Candlemass.
Do you think the “true” styles of metal are experiencing a resurgence? If so, why? Is Põhjast part of this, or building on what it has done? If the latter, where do you think your music is going, both stylistically and in terms of content?
I don’t think Põhjast is part of anything. The music stands on its own on among a well-established tradition of European Metal. You can hear traces of classic metal, probably due to my vocal approach. I do not want to link what we do with any of the current “retro” or “true” trends. If there is a resurgence of classic metal it’s probably due to the fact that what’s current isn’t that interesting for the record-buying public. I am just back from the Maryland Deathfest and I can tell you that the people attending there longed for good old heavy music. Most of the acts there either disbanded years ago and reformed recently or were directly linked or influenced older waves of metal.
I agree with Eric — Põhjast is not trying to follow trends.
I personally do not listen to a very wide variey of stuff – I listen the things that I used to listen to in my “youth”, be that either Bathory or The Smiths. I have never had an ambition to “invent a bicycle”. I have always wished to create the music that I admire. I wouldn’t call it plagiarism, rather as a bow and a hommage towards the musicians I admire, hoping that the music we make is worthy enough. If not, let it sink into the obscurity of ages…
When you sing, how do you pick the notes and textures you use? How much of it is based on the music as written, and how much is your own interpretation of where it should go? Are the rest of Põhjast flexible about giving you space to create?
In Põhjast, everything is already written and recorded before I even start working on the vocals. I work on finished songs so I need to adjust everything I do to the reference files I get. I usually start improvising vocal lines and then refine everything using keyboards or classical guitars as guidelines. I try to have everything in tune but also keep a lot of notes “on the edge,” if you know what I mean. Quorthon used to do that a lot (voluntarily or not) and I like that. It’s important for me to write according to my vocal range but I also try my best to fit the vocals with the mood of the songs. This is the highest in pitch I ever went on a record so far as I am more of a baritone/bass singer. It’s a good thing to have completed songs to work over as I can get the whole feel of it a lot better. Sometimes I hit a wall trying to fit in patterns and melodies as the lyrics are also completed. It’s a maze I come out of with time and a lot of demo recordings. I get total creative freedom from the rest of the band and I truly appreciate that. They trust me a lot as they rarely or never hear anything up until I send them all the vocal tracks at once.
What do you think makes a good metal band? Is there an outlook, content or stylistic direction that is uniquely “metal”? Can this be lost such that a band could use metal riffs, techniques, etc. and still not be metal?
If you keep aside the usual instrumentation (guitars, bass, drums, vocals), metal has this abrasiveness and weight you rarely find in other genres. Heaviness isn’t all about tuning down and playing loud, it has a lot to do with the whole package built around the music, the themes, the vocals and even the artwork. Metal is this visceral manifestation of the darker side of human nature trough music built around riffs played on electric guitars and accompanied by pounding drums and intense vocals. It requires passion and dedication to make it sound right and it’s no wonder enthusiasts of the genre smells the fake ones miles away. Listen to Front Line Assembly’s Millenium or Skinny Puppy’s The Process to see if using metal riffs automatically makes metal music. I like those albums but they’re definitely not Metal.
Why do you think that black metal (which seems to be a partial influence on Põhjast) exploded as it did? Was there a mental state required to bring it about? Or was it all just music?
I like to think that there has to be more than just the music. The innovators of the genre believed in more than just “music,” at least when they began. A lot of death metal bands were just into it for the music and you see where the genre ended in the late 90s. The same happened with black metal with the turn of the millennium. You can’t get great art from trend-aspiring musicians writing typical riffs. Black metal exploded because it was the latest genre representing integrity and involvement transcending creation. It looked and sounded fierce and the leading figures behind the genre made everyone feel like they meant it. Some truly did and some didn’t, as history proved to us. The metal scene needed this level of “involvement” after the debacle of death metal. It still does today, now that most genre has been swallowed by the mainstream. Doom metal is the current trend and I never expected it to be…
I think also that there should be more than music – why not friendship? I believe that for example The Smiths might as well never have been, if Mr. Marr and Mr. Morrissey had not met… or Abbath and Demonaz.
How was this album recorded? Did you use a studio, and if so, which ones? Did you have any idea of what the final product was going to sound like when you did the vocals?
I will let Gates answer parts of this question:
Both Põhjast albums are recorded in Estonia, in Roundsound professional studio under the baton of Keijo Koppel. Cooperation with Keijo has been very productive and we hope that it will continue, as there are more Põhjast records on the way. I personally have had a very concrete idea about the material until Eric comes along :)
As for the vocals, everything was written and recorded so, yes, I had a good idea of where I was heading with the vocals.
What’s next for Põhjast? Will you all unite somewhere to tour, or continue recording? Do you have a label for Matused? Was this a recent signing?
I will let Gates answer this question:
We thought that Põhjast would always remain a studio project. But we have to probably eat our own words, since, if everything goes according to the plan, Põhjast can be seen already in summer 2014! At the moment we are looking for a worthy record company, with whom we could develop an effective cooperation.
If people like Matused, where should they next turn for more Põhjast or related acts?
People can check our previous album Thou strong, Stern Death (Spinefarm, 2012) — www.pohjast.com They can also check our other bands: Metsatöll, Sorts, Barren Earth, Rytmihäiriö, Ajattara, Beast Within and Thesyre.
Thanks a lot for your support and involvement. It’s appreciated!
Eric Syre – vocals
Gates – guitars
Vesa Wahlroos – bass
Marko Atso – drums
Some people exist as unsung pillars of the underground, and Ray Miller of death metal band Adversary is one of them. First, he started up a zine called Metal Curse that is widely regarded as one of the few quality death metal magazines extant today; next, he began selling death and black metal through his label Cursed Productions, which has also released quality demo compilations from bands such as Varathron and Deceased. Finally, he’s in a death metal band called Adversary which could be described as a more late-night-radio American version of Asphyx. We caught up with him at his country villa in Chingadosmujeres, Mexico, as the first shots of a revolution rang out in the street.
When did ADVERSARY begin?
Just a little over five years ago, in May of 1994. Jack Botos (guitar) and I are two of the original founding members. Our drummer, Bob Burns, is fairly new – he’s been damned with us for about a year-and-a-half.
What’s the distribution of the creative work in songwriting, lyrics, artwork, and concept/pot smoking?
Anyway, in the beginning we had another guitarist, Thom Benford, and he wrote a couple riffs back then. But since he quit (before our first demo was released), Jack and I have written all the music and lyrics. However, when Ed was still in the band (on keyboards and drum programming – before we had a human drummer, of course), he created all the drum and keyboard arrangements. How that would work is that Jack or I would present some riffs, or sometimes a “complete” song (the riffs in the “right” order – we sort of tweaked stuff a lot as we worked on it, so a “finished” song would probably still mutate somewhat), and Ed would listen to us play it a few times and get some ideas.
Then we’d record the riffs on my 4-track, and Ed would work out the programming at home, and at the next practice maybe have something we could play along with. Now that Bob is in the band, we just show him a riff, and he starts playing behind it. Right before Ed quit (he got married…), he had written a few really great riffs for a new song, but we decided to not use them after he left. Not that we parted on bad terms, or anything of the sort.
As far as the artwork goes for the band, it’s been different on every release. On our new demo-CD, We Must Be In Hell, Bob brought over few books of photos and paintings, and we basically swiped one. I altered the colors and so on, and did the actual layout myself. I’ve done CD packaging designs for a few underground labels, in addition to my own releases on Cursed Productions.
I also publish a zine called Metal Curse, and Bob has done 99% of the art for that for the last several issues.
Concept… Well, I suppose our general sound was more or less my idea, being inspired by “simple” Death Metal such as MASSACRE, ASPHYX, (early) GRAVE, UNLEASHED, IMPETIGO, (early) DEATH, AUTOPSY, and onward into countless others. Of course Jack has done his fair share (or more) to shape our sound since. And now, with Bob, we have the added power of human drumming, but we have also lost our keyboards.
So, I suppose our sound is almost constantly evolving, but still hopefully memorable Death Metal. If that’s what you mean by “concept” at all…
As for pot smoking, I leave that to Jack. I don’t smoke, or even drink unless it’s a “special occasion.” So, Jack gets my share. Bob has been known to partake every now and then, too.
The surest way to corrupt a youth is to teach him to hold in higher regard those who think alike than those who think differently.
– F.W. Nietzsche
Are you guys touring?
I wish! That’s exactly what we would love to do, but Cursed Productions is too small to support it. That’s one of the reasons we would like to get signed to a larger label: So we can go out and see the world. And the sluts, of course. We do have some shows lined up during the summer, and there is a really slim possibility of us going to Brazil to play some shows with some bands (NERVOCHAOS and INSANITY) on Muvuca Records.
What kind of instruments do you play, and why?
I have a Washburn bass, and a Fender Bassman amp. I like my Washburn because it does not have all that “active electronics” bullshit. It’s old, but I’m attached to it. And speaking of old, my Bassman is nice and fuzzy, and I really like that sound. I think it adds a lot more depth to our live sound than a clean bass tone would. However, when we recorded our debut album, _The Winter’s Harvest_, I was talked into plugging directly into the board, and got a really clear “Steve Harris” kind of sound. That works pretty well for IRON MAIDEN, but I think it made the album sound more “clean” than it should have. Well, and the keyboards and drum machine also added to the “clean” sound… Believe me, I learned my lesson about that, and will stick with my “warm” Bassman sound form now on.
Jack has had a couple different guitars over the years, and he just got a new one. I think he may finally be satisfied with the guitar, but now he’s looking for a bigger, meaner amp.
And my drum knowledge is pathetic, so all I know about Bob’s kit, is that it’s like nuclear explosions going off whenever he hits the snare.
Do you feel it matters, or matters only for aesthetic (“sound” quality, texture, timbre, “feel”) qualities?
What else would it matter? Just to be like B.B. King and his beloved guitar? No, I’m not that attached to any equipment I own, so if I could afford to get a bass and amp that I thought sounded better, I would. But “sounding better” is obviously extremely subjective, and after many years of using this same gear (I’ve had it and been in bands for a lot longer than ADVERSARY has been around), I guess I’m so used to it, that I’m not sure what would sound better. So, maybe I *am* a little like B.B. after all.
The Christian resolution to make the world ugly and bad has made the world ugly and bad.
– F.W. Nietzsche
What are you guys like outside of the band? Do you suffer under the Judeo-Christian pestilence known as “day jobs”? Tattoos? Historical heroes?
Bob and Jack do have “day jobs,” but my full time job is running my label, Cursed Productions. It may seem odd, but none of us have any tattoos. I think we may be the only ink-free Death Metal band in the world! I’m not sure I really have any heroes other than the guys in MOTORHEAD. And, as my pal Psycho would say, “the guy who invented lesbian pornography.”
Is the ADVERSARY eponym an identification with Satan, the “adversary” of ancient Hebrew religion?
YES! Thank you. You are exactly the second person to ever ask me that. I had thought it was odd that no one had snatched up the name before us, but I guess not many people understand what it means.
What do you see as the difference between Jewish, Christian, Islamic and Buddhist views of “evil”/”suffering”?
I’m not really well enough versed in Islam and Buddhism to answer that. So, what I’ll do instead is say that mainstream (x-tian at least) religions seem to think that a lot of natural behavior should be considered “evil,” and that seems crazy to me. Fucking, well that’s evil. Killing, no matter what the situation, that’s evil too.
What forms of art, ideas, or actions inspired the inception of your artwork?
Early Death Metal, of course. But also other music, such as MOTORHEAD, VENOM, SLAYER (I believe that you consider them to be a Death Metal band, but that’s open to debate, if you ask me), ACCEPT, DEAD KENNEDYS… Non mainstream music in general. And I suppose that honestly, everything I’ve ever heard has inspired me in some way. Maybe not always in a positive way, though. I also read whenever I can, and have certainly been inspired by the authors I like, such as Charles Bukowski, Henry Miller, Vladimir Nabokov, Italo Calvino, Jorge Luis Borges, William S. Burroughs, Douglas Adams, to name just a very, very few. Plus, as geeky as it might sound, Godzilla movies. I’ve always been a huge fan (excepting the dismal TriStar attempt of last summer) of Godzilla and his monstrous pals. And, horror movies. Zombies, especially, seem to grab my interest. I appreciate the special effects, and I suppose like the thrill.
Do you consider your music a form of “art” (the academic definition, not the trendy one)?
What motive inspires your art?
To create something that will outlast us.To, in sort of a Shakespearean sense, live forever. The hope that someday we might be a source of inspiration for others to creatively express what they feel.And to one day take over for MOTORHEAD as the best, most respected, band in the world.
Or maybe just to meet chicks and take over the world.
Do you think drugs help/hinder art?
I can’t really answer that, since I don’t use any drugs. But I do think that drugs can be used as a tool to possibly help with creativity. However, they can also be detrimental. As I said, I think they’re a tool, and should be used as such, if at all.
Does religion help/etc?
Well, it sure seems like a lot of Extreme Metal bands these days rely on religious (or more accurately, anti-religious) themes in their lyrics, so I guess it helps them in that way. I think that organized religion is a great way to oppress and control the masses, so it “helps” us by giving us a focus on one of society’s problems: it’s easier to be a sheep than to accept responsibility for your own actions, think for yourself, and be your own person.
Of course, x-tian religions love to censor everything they can, from books to thoughts, so in that way, that kind of religion clearly hinders the creative process.
“They train them to drop fire on men… But they won’t let them write the word FUCK on their aeroplanes… Becuase it’s obscene!”
-Colonel Kurtz, Apocalypse Now!
I don’t know if violence has any affect on art, but I suppose that as a society becomes more and more violent, the art it as a whole produces will reflect that.
Most of what’s on broadcast television is extremely dumbed down, so that even the most idiotic Joe Sixpack will understand it, so generally I see TV as sort of a filter that removes most of what is interesting about life. Even worse when a movie is butchered so that it can be “safely” shown without “offending” anyone.
In your personal lives, how do you understand and respond to the presence of corporate control and material need?
Of course you do need to pay the bills, and obviously I like music and books, so I do my best to bring in cash, and spend it just as well. It would be nice to not have to worry about huge companies like Blockbuster having more than a little control in determining the content of the movies they carry, or Meijer driving all the mom and pop grocery stores out of business, but when faced with the decision of having enough to eat if I get the shit at Meijer, or going hungry from trying to support a local store, I must choose to eat.
What do you think of “jobs”?
I don’t like them. I am lucky enough to be able to make a very modest living at doing something that I enjoy (Cursed Productions, Metal Curse, and ADVERSARY), but I do put in a lot more time at this than Jack and Bob do combined at their jobs. Sometimes, just for a second, I wonder if it wouldn’t be easier to go work for someone else. Certainly it would be easier, and considerably less work. I could have more “free time” to read and relax. But at what cost? So I could go be a nameless cog in some huge machine that cares not at all about me, as I am utterly replacable? So I could “finally grow up and get a real job”? I don’t think so. To quote Jello Biafra, “I’d rather stay a child and keep my self respect, if being an adult means being like you.” But, then again, if one day Cursed Productions fails to provide me with enough to get by, I will be forced to take other actions. That’s not part of the Global Domination plan, though.
Do you blaspheme on a regular basis for dentological, aka done for the intensity of the action itself, reasons?
Maybe. It seems more appropriate to blaspheme for the reaction it generates in others, whether positive or negative, as both responces are extremely important at various times and in various situations. But just screaming “Fuck god!” in an empty room doens’t do much for me.
Are you moral? Do you believe in morality?
I suppose so, but I certainly have my own morality. What I think is “right and wrong” might not match up with what some people think. I’m fairly close to what LaVey says in the _Satanic Bible_ as far as morality is concerned.
Do you think ethics are separate from morals?
I hadn’t considered it before. Perhaps morals could be seen as a personal code of conduct, while ethics might be viewed as more of a code of conduct for groups or whole societies. Perhaps to remain with the given society, one would have to conform to the ethical “guidelines,” while still retaining his own personal morality that might only come into play in other societies or groups.
What is the most important factor for you in creating music that satisfies you at the deepest level?
Knowing that what we have created is honest and true to us.
If you met Jesus, what would you say?
“Until I see you turn this water into wine, you’re just a punk in sandals.”
Or, maybe upon seeing a “miracle” I couldn’t debunk, “Oh shit!”
If I were back in time, I might say, “Stay out of Russia.” But no matter when I saw him, I’d want to talk about eugenics. What else could you talk to Hitler about?
Now that depends on what you mean by “God.” But, playing along for a moment, I’d ask why we exist, and what the purpose of the universe is.
I’d tell him that passive resistance cannot always work.
Without music life would be a mistake.
How would you react if your daughter got breast implants?
Interesting. I’ll try to take this one seriously. From the perspective of a father, I don’t think I’d like it, but I would certainly have to have more information as to why she was doing it. Is it just the fact that she’s small chested and wants to fuck the football team, who will only fuck the big boobed cheerleaders, or does she think that she’ll be better able to control the weak sheep-wills of men and have legions to do her bidding? If she wants to get a boob job so that she can dominate the universe, then okay.
Do you feel society is evolved from the hominid state, aka “ape” social existence with inherent power games?
Evidently not. As George Carlin would say, “It’s the bigger dick policy at work. If they have bigger dicks, bomb them.”
Why do you feel that many experience a dark sense of foreboding regarding the millenium and significant times afterward, such as 2012?
Fear of the unknown, for one thing. And I don’t have to mention that most people are sheep, and that the media has been forcing “millennium fear” on everyone, so it’s only natural that the herd is worried about it. What’s significant about 2012?
2012 is the date the Mayan calendar “ends” an era, with the implication that what comes will be either total destruction or a new frontier. I however think it is the date when the genome of marijuana truly matures, and thus all earth will be unified in clouds of sweet smoke.
More like the number of bong hits you’ve taken during this interview!
Is ADVERSARY is exploring a new type of metal, and an old type of metal, like any other group of self-respecting artists in this age?
Yeah, it’s sort of like my taste in literature: mythological and postmodern.
A giant HAILS and BLACK VOMIT OF ETERNITY to the mighty ADVERSARY for this lengthy interview.Thank you for your time.
You’re welcome of course. I should really thank you for the interest in ADVERSARY.
…The one-eyed man will have one eye the stronger; the blind man will see deeper inwardly, and certainly hear better. To this extent, the famous theory of the survival of the fittest does not seem to me to be the only viewpoint from which to explain the progress of strengthening of a man or of a race.
– F.W. Nietzsche
It’s hard to introduce a band who were part of the introduction of the genres upon which this site is based. Along with Discharge, Amebix were the punk half of the formula, influenced by Black Sabbath and Motorhead, a potent brew of inspirations which when mixed with NWOBHM made for the elementals of death metal and black metal. Coming to us from the UK, Amebix were also one of those rare inspirations that believed in the idea before the incarnation, and wanted to give meaning to life where others were satisfied with callow rebellion. Taking time out from practice for the new tour, the Baron gave us a few moments aboard a chartered Italian diesel submarine to keep us in the loop on art, music, life and Amebix.
The AMEBIX “sound” has appeared as an ingredient in diverse metal and punk genres, and you’re a foundational influence on all crustcore. How did you hit upon this sound? Are there any parallels in visual art, books and movies?
For myself and Stig our approach has always been very instinctual, not having any musical knowledge or training we had to find our way blindly, mainly through the “feel” of a song, and the way we would try and build it up; it is not clever, but it has a simple and honest power. I am not able to tell if there are parallels in other Art, but our particular Silhouette style artwork was also in the same vein, getting a powerful idea across very simply, leaving the viewer to use their imaginative capacity.
It has been said that, initially, AMEBIX did not use chords to create songs. How did you learn to play music, and did you take advantage of any established theory?
I think the answer above is applicable here too, I learned how to play guitar chords when I moved to Skye, but in a very real sense I found that understanding music in any way actually took away a huge part of the “magic” for me.
From the metal side of things, you cite BLACK SABBATH and MOTORHEAD. What about these bands appealed to you, and what elements of their style did you carry on into AMEBIX?
Well, Motorhead was about energy; Sabbath was for me a very deep band, although subsequent discoveries really place the lyrical side with Geezer, it was a dark band that we could really bring our imagination into sympathy with, like Killing Joke. Music for me is about seeing an internal landscape, and I really tried to make that come alive with Amebix.
In an interview with Romania’s Metalfan, you say “I can’t get into the completely predictable sound of so many bands now, why dont people take a risk and do something unusual?” — do you believe the sound itself is what they must innovate, or is there something that comes before the sound — a realization of what they want to make in music, or an idea they want to communicate — that causes them to pick the sound they want?
I think that actually it is the same as when we started: 99% of people who want to make a band base themselves on someone else; there are so very few that are manifesting anything unique only to themselves. People do not take risks. We grew up with Bowie, T rex, Slade and eventually punk, and believed that it was our job not to be like everyone else, back when punk bands were so diverse and original, pre-Crass/Discharge, etc.
I am also a boring old twat too, which doesn’t give my opinion any credibility.
How did musical illiteracy help or hinder you in creating the music of AMEBIX?
It freed us entirely of understanding and allowed us to manifest our true sound.
The transition from signs which dissimulate something to signs which dissimulate that there is nothing, marks the decisive turning point. The first implies a theology of truth and secrecy (to which the notion of ideology still belongs). The second inaugurates an age of simulacra and simulation, in which there is no longer any God to recognize his own, nor any last judgement to separate truth from false, the real from its artificial resurrection, since everything is already dead and risen in advance…Henceforth, it is the map that precedes the territory – precession of simulacra – it is the map that engenders the territory and if we were to revive the fable today, it would be the territory whose shreds are slowly rotting across the map. – Jean Baudrillard, Live Theory
In the AMEBIX biography, you describe living in squats, moving from “one ruin to another, no sanitation, little electricity, and skip raids for food.” Many people seem to romanticize this lifestyle, but it cannot have been easy. How did it shape the AMEBIX sound?
It is difficult to be objective about this, but there is a cold harshness to some of the music that we put out at this time, it is also unrefined and spontaneous. Not having solid practice places or such we would write a song and that was that. If we could remember it then we would take it into the studio, but we had absolutely no discipline regarding recording, so a lot of the songs are poorly recorded and very primitive in comparison to today’s sound.
Jim Morrison (THE DOORS) sang and wrote repeatedly of a “frontier,” or a no man’s land where chaos and conflict ruled, but also open spaces were present. Was he speaking existentially, politically, or both, and how does this apply to music that loves nature (red in tooth and claw), destruction, emptiness and melancholy loneliness?
Morrison was referred to as either an idiot or a shaman, for me personally I don’t have an interest in The Doors, although Stig does. I don’t know whether this is a poetic sentiment he expresses or a psychological state.
What distinguishes great music from bad? Can it be distilled into technique, or is it something less easily defined?
Great music will cause a reaction good or bad, in the listener. Bad music will play in the background of the elevators of existence.
In the Metalfan interview, you say “Punk was about individuality and creativity, it became a cult of Conformity” — it seems many genres and artistic movements go this way — why do you think this is?
There is a general tendency for people to organise and define themselves into genres and groups, it is an instinctual and general behaviour pattern that stems from insecurity; it is the same root as nationalism, bigotry and religious division. Punk swallowed itself, stupid little people.
After 17 years, why re-unite AMEBIX? You had said you were tired of playing every variation of A and E chords you knew, and expressed frustration with current music. Are you coming back to change things?
We have an opportunity to redeem ourselves at this point in time, to play as a tight unit using good equipment and with an audience that has actually come to see Amebix. It is of course also partly vanity, but in all honesty this would not have come about if we didn’t meet the mark. There is a ferocity about some of the songs that still remains, and we are really looking forward to playing our “fantasy” gigs, having the backing now that we could only dream of back then. Me and Stig could hear how Amebix should sound back then, but we never had the opportunity to realise it.
One thing that distinguished AMEBIX was that your lyrics were less obviously “political,” or endorsing changes in society, and more focused on values and symbolism, almost like Jungian archetypes. What influenced this, and what did it enable you to express that other methods would not? What do you hope to communicate to the audience this way, and is designed to get past some of their expectations?
My lyrical approach was to create access to internal Landscapes, Archetypes and symbols. This was before I had studied the matter more thoroughly, but I wanted people to bring their own imagination into the Music, and in a sense fill in the spaces, and own that song as their own interpretation of an idea. Ambiguous statements leave room for imaginative interpretation.
In the article about your sword-forging activities, this quote sticks in my mind: “I see the metal as a living thing. It becomes alive when you introduce the elements of fire, coal (earth), air to feed the fire, and water or liquid for the quench.” This reminds me of the movement to sacralize earth and view it as a living thing (Gaia). Do you feel that all of life is alive, or any compatibility with this view that reality itself is sacred? Did you feel this way when making music?
The Forging is an extension of what I was doing then, still trying to be in touch with the elemental forces, although it is 99% a Job now, but I can still get into the right space when I need to.
Once upon a time, in some out of the way corner of that universe which is dispersed into numberless twinkling solar systems, there was a star upon which clever beasts invented knowing. That was the most arrogant and mendacious minute of “world history,” but nevertheless, it was only a minute. After nature had drawn a few breaths, the star cooled and congealed, and the clever beasts had to die. One might invent such a fable, and yet he still would not have adequately illustrated how miserable, how shadowy and transient, how aimless and arbitrary the human intellect looks within nature. There were eternities during which it did not exist. – Friedrich Nietzsche, On Truth and Lies in a Non-Moral Sense
The allusion to living steel is a physical reality, as fire heats up the metal it opens up and begins to move more rapidly as it changes states, when the hammer or Will is applied this will imprint itself into the lattice. The steel will have gone through an actual physical change in accordance with the will of the Smith.
It’s interesting how many punk and metal bands come through modern ideas to discover the ideals traditional societies from a millenium ago, which were: reverence for nature, belief in a transcendental but not dualistic life, independence from humanist morality, desire to create the beautiful and eternal, searching for truth with the self as the lens but not the focus. Do you feel any of these in your own creation?
Yes, I absolutely agree with you, transcendence of duality is the goal, to realise that all is from the same.
The AMEBIX biography says that you have completed enough material for “seven full-length albums.” I have Arise!, Monolith and No Sanctuary (which seems to be a re-released Beginning of the End, whose legality I am unsure of). What am I missing?
Nothing missing, I don’t see where seven full length albums comes from.
Also from the article on sword creation: “What contemporary thinking fails to understand about the alchemists’ attempts to transmute base metal to gold is that they were undergoing a process of personal refinement. Transmutation was an ultimate goal that stimulated the imagination. It was a metaphor for the essential creative process. My sole aim is to take the alchemists’ metaphor and give it substance. To give it a more rational setting.” Are you forging your own soul as you make swords? What role does discipline play in life, and in creation? I ask that because it seems to me that it takes discipline to learn to forge swords, and discipline to make a good one.
Yes, Forging was an extension of other disciplines when I started. It is a fine metaphor that can be used by anyone who is seeking some personal truth.
If sound is like paint, and we use different techniques and portray different things in our paintings, what does it say when a genre sounds similar and has similar topic matter and imagery? Can the genre be said to have a philosophy or culture of its own?
Maybe. I would not like to be stuck in a particular genre. It is important to me to keep moving, and not try and fit in. The person who leaves the tribe will have the adventure and come back with the Story that will change the Tribe, if they can listen.
When we feel ourselves to be sole heirs of the universe, when “the sea flows in our veins … and the stars are our jewels,” when all things are perceived as infinite and holy, what motive can we have for covetousness or self-assertion, for the pursuit of power or the drearier forms of pleasure? Contemplatives are not likely to become gamblers, or procurers, or drunkards; they do not as a rule preach intolerance, or make war; do not find it necessary to rob, swindle or grind the faces of the poor. And to these enormous negative virtues we may add another which, though hard to define, is both positive and important. The arhat and the quietist may not practice contemplation in its fullness; but if they practice it at all, they may bring back enlightening reports of another, a transcendent country of the mind; and if they practice it in the height, they will become conduits through which some beneficent influence can how out of that other country into a world of darkened selves, chronically dying for lack of it. – Aldous Huxley, The Doors of Perception
Do you believe objective reality exists?
I don’t believe that we have the sensory ability to discern things on a higher level, that intimation can come through Symbolism and Visionary experience, but I cannot answer that with any authority at all.
Any plans to write a book about the AMEBIX experience, and what the punk/metal movement meant at the time? The “Risen” DVD sounds like it has some inclinations in this direction?
I started to write a book some years ago; this has been shelved for now, but I may take it up again when I am in my dotage.
The world needed punk when it happened, but not much has changed, yet the music seems less relevant. Is there a way to make it relevant again? Dare I ask… Is that what motivated you to break your silence and return?
I think the Spirit of Punk got lost a long time ago, but it can be found popping up in other Cultural milieu. A lot of the scene was just a parody of an idea, although some people lived it. I like to think that you can keep that spirit alive in the way you live your life, not who or what you identify with, keep an open mind, allow new ideas to come in.
Just as only one out of 100,000 has the talent to be an engineer or an acrobat, only a few are capable of managing the matters of a nation or humankind…In this time and this part of the world we are headlessly hanging on to democracy and the parliamentary system, even though these are the most mindless and desperate experiments of humankind…In democratic coutries destruction of nature and sum of ecological disasters has accumulated most. – Pentti Linkola, Can Nature Win?
Any genre of music can be said to have an ideology, or ideological range. The musicians and fans had to pick the music because it sounded like something they wanted in their lives. With a really dumb genre, that would be distraction or posing like a slacker or a pimp. With more complex genres, the aesthetics and organization of the music suggest ideals people desire. For metal, the aesthetic — finding beauty in dischordant darkness — and organization — a “riff salad” that narrates like a poem — suggests a rejection of the human perspective for a more holistic reality.
It is this style of metal, from its first riffs derived from the modernist-classical-lite melodies of horror movie soundtracks, which, by eschewing fixed “meaning” for a sense of fitting together as a whole and having an architectonic clarity as the songs, shows us a world from the perspective of a movie, or a scientist, or history: the camera pans back and we no longer think of individuals involved as being important in their own right. We think of the story, the situation, and the outcome, but with our knowledge we cannot be limited to an anthropocentric position.
This is how, without even reading the lyrics, we can tell what metal has in the way of values and worldview, which if you believe in them enough to think they’d make a good organization for civilization, you call an “ideology.” The ideology of Britney Spears is “what the hell, who cares”; the ideology of jazz is cosmopolitanism; the ideology of techno is vibrant distraction; the ideology of classical music is a respect for intensity and attention span. All forms of art have some form of ideology, although sometimes it is hard to recognize because it is subtle or, in many cases, non-challenging (see “Britney Spears” some words ago).
The Metal Ideology
With a little more analysis, we can enumerate the metal ideology as follows:
Evidence for each of these assertions can be found in metal lyrics, imagery and through a thoughtful perspective on the sounds and structures used in metal songs. You could claim “the past is alive” and “only death is real” as good starting points, but even early Black Sabbath lyrics have the romanticist, naturalistic, holistic and nihilistic tendencies that create the above values system. In this, metal bands are not dissimilar to European Romantic poetry and classical music, which was also post-moral, saw the individual as a means and not an end, nationalistic, and playful.
Christianity, on the other hand, is more complex because it is open to wide interpretations. Narrowing in on what most people believe, we can see it has several basic tenets, originating in its idea of individual equality in the eyes of God. To a metalhead, this interpretation of Christianity seems anti-nature, because we are not equal in ability and any interpretation of equality is a human imposition that does not exist in nature; further, metalheads distrust the creation of alternate realities like God, heaven and hell. Not all interpretations of Christianity have these tenets, and some in fact are closer to what metal believes (the likes of Ralph Waldo Emerson, Johannes Eckhart or Arthur Schopenhauer come to mind). But for the mass religion that conquered much of Europe, these are its beliefs:
The common root of these Christian beliefs is humanism, or belief in the predominance of the human form and its incarnations, individuals. The Christian God is shaped like a human; Christian morality rewards never harming or killing humans even if they’re doing insane things; Christian morality emphasizes how we’re all equal. We can see how the elaborate dance of morality and theology supports a much simpler human truth, which is the desire of the ego of each one of us to be independent from forces which can humble it with reality. We want to be free from the consequences of making bad decisions and the social judgment of others, because either can show us to be incorrect or to have a weakness, and that scares us in a social setting and makes us lose social status. The root of Christianity is affirming the ego’s power; the root of metal is affirming the power of nature and by unintentional consequence, decreasing the supremacy of the ego.
Romanticism, the parent belief of metal, originates in a more naturalistic time before beliefs like Christianity separated the self-valuation of the human individual from nature, and gave them an imaginary reality (morality) with which to compensate. Although Christianity means well, the unintended consequence is that it makes people more selfish because instead of just trying to live their lives, they are now trying to prove and justify their worth in a moral context. The resulting drama creates many social problems because it ultimately boils down to a denial of reality in favor of individual withdrawl from reality, and it creates neurosis and ego competition.
For this reason art — which tries to affirm our bonds to reality, or through unitivity remove us from false worlds and the withdrawl into our own perspective — has been at odds with society for at least a millenium, perhaps longer. Where social control, power, law and religion require external affirmation for the individual to justify themselves, art confronts the accepted vision of reality with a fantasy that is metaphorically more accurate than the “scientific” and “objective” beliefs of a dying society. Art reconnects us with cause/effect reasoning by taking us out of a false context, and through a new context, showing us where our values lie.
Both Romanticist art and metal are therefore in conflict with Christianity as 99% of its audience practices it, and they have run into additional conflict through Christian propaganda trying to emulate the original art forms. When a Christian or secular humanist (atheistic version of Christian morality) sees metal, which is a value system that not only denies their own but makes it look like an arbitrary fantasy into which people escape their fear of mortality and failure, they have a tendency to do what any good propagandist would do: make their own version of the art in question, and then point to that new creation which did not emerge from the artistic movement but was imposed upon it, and use its existence to claim that consensus does not exist in the artistic movement.
We call this imposed, false, externalized metal “Christian metal” because its defining factor is that it is Christian. It is not a genre, but can appear in any genre; it is an ideological tag with a parallel in neo-Nazi music in that what matters most is its message, and it uses metal as a conduit for that message, instead of wanting to create metal for metal’s sake and therefore explore the values of metal.
A History of Christian Metal
Metal is a romanticist movement which was inspired by the classical era of European humanity, including as part of its view many Romantic philosophical ideals which are pre-Christian in their derivation and anti-Christian in their values.
In 1990, ninety percent of the adult population identified with one or another religion group. source
In our current time, Judeo-Christianity is not only dominant in social thinking but has become secularized and dominant there as well. Prior to Judeo-Christianity’s arrival, concepts such as “morality” and “equality” and dualism were rejected by the inhabitants of Europe as insane or alien. After years of slowly working its way into that culture, Christianity became the dominant religion through its influence among the poor, the downtrodden, the pathetic, the less-capable and the spiteful. Currently, Judaism and Christianity are the dominant religions in America and most of the Western World. For example, both presidential candidates in the last election spoke extensively of their relationships to “God” and of the “morality” of their ideas, including vice-Presidential candidate Joseph Liebermann who considers himself “the moral voice of the Senate.”
“From these two religions we find at least all of our last ten presidents and their ancestors, and among the believers we find the owners of every major media establishment in the country as well as most of the smaller ones. Virtually every Congressperson has prominently featured in his or her campaign propaganda the Christian or Jewish nature of his or her morality, and most television anchors will make reference to secularized Christian moral concepts or the Judaic “God” in the midst of a supposedly objective broadcast. Before Judeo-Christianity, these concepts did not exist in the Western world; their sole origin is in the religions of Christ and Moses (who were both born Jewish).
This article is not an attempt to smear the people ensnared by these sick ideas; on the contrary, I view them as “victims” also in that their consciousness has had a control mechanism implanted within it. This goes for secular people like yourself, who in good faith sit down and write me a letter like the one quoted above in which you espouse humanist ideals of “individual choice” and “belief.” In the cases of believers however, those ideals do not exist; what does exist is conformity to an ideal of social control, and metal rightly rejects it.
Christians see themselves as very tolerant of people of other faiths, with 81% of Christians saying that Christians in the United States are “very” or “somewhat” tolerant of people of other faiths. People who are not Christians agree with this view for the most part, but not nearly as many of them are fully convinced of Christian tolerance. Only 54% of non-Christians see Christians as being tolerant of people of other faiths. source
Another Form of Humanism: Satanism
Satanism in black metal, death metal, “doom metal,” heavy metal, evil metal, speed metal, thrash and grindcore/metal hybrids arises from the need of metal musicians to understand emptiness in the universe and find a metaphor for its acceptance, a trait in evidence in death metal, black metal, heavy metal and ambient metal to extremes. Much like Romantic poets John Milton or William Blake explored the occult, evil and Satan as metaphor, metal bands find Satan a tempting metaphor for a society against which you can rebel without escaping its psychological trap.
Many of society’s abused denizens, looking at the over-the-top exultation in Satanism, Evil, deviant or degenerate behavior in metal, find themselvs turning back in disgust: “Awk! These kids are just trying to piss me off – contrarians, they only want to invert what is, and to create attention for themselves.”
One could not be more wrong. Contrarians wish to behave “badly” to grab the attention that comes from swimming the wrong way up the stream, but to get that attention, they depend on a cousin of pity: the belief that those who choose a different path are lost and looking for the others to bring them back in to a hearth of comfort and goodness. In short, a contrarian affirms the belief system she is rejecting.
Satanism, as practiced by death metal and black metal bands, does not involve an inversion but a surpassing of moral norms and social custom. To understand this, one must first understand the nihilism of metal bands: they do not believe there is “good” or “evil,” but see events as disconnected from any form of absolute other than their inherent function – that is to say, metal bands believe that events do not have a face value and instead view existence with a scientific eye that traces a complexity of causes, reactions, and similarities but does not attempt to ascribe any of it to absolute forces except logical tendencies.
Where Satanism exists for metal bands it functions as metaphor in following the footsteps of the Master: in each mythology where he touches, the Satan-figure is the youthful and ambiguous rebel who rejects what has come before in favor of his own path, and despite his consequent exile from society, finds truth in what he has created and found. The cry from Milton of Satan’s independence – “I will not serve!” – echoes in a genre that insists on finding out its own answers, and creating its own paths, on an individual basis. Unfortunately, that leads to the ego-basis of Christianity and secular humanism, and shortly afterwards, the sickening morals that constrain begin again.
You can strengthen the genre of metal by resisting this form of social control in form of boycotts, public awareness of its true intention, and a refusal to accept it as metal. If it is played on the radio, call in to speak the truth about its agenda. If a friend plays it on a stereo, speak out against the controlling mindset of the music. If someone tells you that it’s “open-minded” to accept music that attempts to destroy the philosophies of the genre to which it theoretically belongs, tell them that art does not reprogram human souls toward giving in to a fear of death, and that true metal will liberate them from their fear of existence.